Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Heather M. Shirey

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Kindall

Third Advisor

Craig Eliason


Cameroonian Photographer Samuel Fosso (b. 1962) and American painter Kehinde
Wiley (b. 1977) use portraiture as a vehicle for political and cultural expression in their
series Emperor of Africa (Fosso, 2012) and The World Stage: China (Wiley, 2007). As a result, both series serve as commentary on contemporary politics involving Africa and China as a result. While the visual similarities between the two series are apparent due to both artist’s incorporation and reinterpretation of Chinese motifs, the connection between Fosso and Wiley extends to include parallel explorations of propaganda, mimicry, cultural identity, and satire. This paper employs post-colonial methodologies to analyze Fosso’s and Wiley’s use of Chinese propaganda-poster imagery in their portraits in the context of Sino-African relations. By situating the works within the complex neocolonial relationship between China and Africa, this paper considers the art historical ramifications of the two series to discuss issues of identity construction, mimicry, satire, and authenticity in portraiture.

In a summary of findings, this paper details how Fosso’s and Wiley’s portraits function
as a political statement of Sino-African relations, and also how both series question the idea of propaganda, portraiture, and cultural identity. Specifically, this project examines how Fosso and Wiley create political portraiture by employing ideas of mimicry. I argue that, as multi-cultural artists, Fosso and Wiley appropriate iconic Chinese motifs to reflect their own global identities. In turn, both artists suggest that through their exploration of propaganda imagery, portraiture can also be used as a medium for political expression.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.